Investigating the Secrets of the Underwater World
By Cindy A. Littlefield
Illustrations by Sarah Rakitin
Published by Williamson Publishing, 2003, 120 p.
Reviewed by Sharon A. Hollander
I review children’s books, and I read through plenty on science and nature. I can honestly say that I felt a wave of relief when I came upon Awesome Ocean Science! Investigating the Secrets of the Underwater World, a Williamson Kids Can! Book.
I recently took home a big stack of books on the environment, and I was disappointed, not to mention bored by most of them. Perhaps appropriate as sources for school reports, I can’t imagine a child spontaneously picking one up for leisure reading. In fact, some of these books would test even an adult without bulletproof interest in the topic. Well-written and visually appealing, Awesome Ocean Science! stood out in the crowd.
Awesome Ocean Science! is actually a sequence of short readings and related activities, a curriculum of sorts that covers the ocean, its floor, plants, animals, and protection of marine resources. The book is filled with fascinating facts, cute cartoons, clever riddles, clearly labeled diagrams, lucid explanations, and thought-provoking experiments. The type is large and easy to read, and the pages are eye catching, but not busy. There’s also a clear, detailed index, that will help readers find or revisit topics of choice.
To be sure, Awesome Ocean Science! is not designed to be read straight through. Readers are more likely to move slowly through the chapters or pick and choose areas of interest. There are many demonstrations and experiments that can be done with household materials. Those who make the effort will be rewarded with rain in a jar, breakers in a bottle, or deep water currents in a pan. The author recommends supervision for these tasks, and I heartily agree.
The final chapter addresses environmental problems, such as overfishing, oil spills, and global warming. The author suggests awareness activities that include keeping an ocean log and making T-shirts with relevant messages and pictures. I appreciate her style. It’s informative, but not alarming or overwhelming in that why-haven’t-you-already- started-a-community-organization? kind of way.
Awesome Ocean Science! also strikes me as versatile. It can be used at home or in the classroom. The book is recommended for children 7 to 14. Based on the text and tasks, parents and teachers of readers at the low end of that range should be ready with explanations and assistance. Unfortunately, the publisher’s website, www.williamsonbooks.com, was under construction at the time of this review, but they do promise a free, downloadable guide for teachers, parents, and caregivers with additional ideas, activities, and projects. There are other award-winning books in the Kids Can! series on subjects such as dinosaurs, wildlife, first aid, and weather forecasting.
In the end, I like the fact that Awesome Ocean Science! is respectful of readers and just plain empowering. The author asks many questions, answers some, and provides ways to answer the others. The book cultivates curiosity about the wonders of the ocean. Nature is mysterious, and like a certain boy wizard, it is magical.
Sharon A. Hollander is Assistant Professor of Education at Georgian Court College in Lakewood, New Jersey.